Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we may earn a commission from our partners’ links. This content is created independently from TIME’s editorial staff. Learn more.
Whether you are planning your dream vacation or just hate paying extra fees for checked bags, it is essential to invest in the best carry-on luggage for your travel preferences. You may be considering a featherweight duffel, a durable hard-shelled case, or a flexible soft-sided suitcase, but with so many brands and models to choose from, some travelers have a difficult time selecting the right carry-on for their needs.
How to choose the best carry-on luggage
Here are some key carry-on factors to consider:
Hardside vs. softside
The main benefit of a hardside carry-on is its waterproof, impact-resistant exterior that protects its contents from damage. A softside carryon tends to be a bit lighter, have more outside compartments, and is more flexible if you pack a lot. One thing to consider is that carry-ons are not tossed around by baggage handlers, so impact isn’t as important. But if you think you’ll check your carry-on from time to time, this should be a consideration.
The Federal Aviation Administration sets a maximum size limit of 45 linear inches for a carry-on, which translates to a 22 inch x 14 inch x 9 inch bag (including handles and wheels). However, acceptable dimensions for carry-on bags can vary by airline. In addition to meeting requirements for an airline, consider whether you really need your carry-on to hold a lot or whether you prioritize something more compact. Expandability may also be an important feature.
Similarly, think about the way you want to use your carry-on. Is it important to have a front pocket for easy access to important things like a laptop or passport. Do you want to store lots of little things inside interior compartments for organization, or are you ok with keeping everything in one big main compartment? You might also look for tie-down straps to keep everything in place.
Ease of transport
First, decide whether you want a rolling carry-on or something you carry on your shoulder or back. If you choose a rolling bag, look for features that signal solid navigation, like smooth 360-degree spinner wheels (four of them is best) and a rugged telescopic handle.
Some carry-ons have things like tamper-proof zippers, TSA-approved locks, and RFID protection. Decide how important built-in safety features are for you.
Nowadays, some pieces of luggage include built-in battery packs to charge your phone, and a few even have high-tech features like GPS tracking capabilities, WiFi connectivity, and built-in luggage scales.
By its very nature, luggage experiences wear and tear. Carry-ons don’t generally take as much of a beating as checked luggage, but it’s still worth checking out your luggage’s warranty before you decide. Often, you can get a lifetime guarantee.
This is a style element, of course, but you might also opt for an interesting color that’s not black or gray just so you can keep an eye on your bag in a busy airport or train terminal.
We’ve compared everything from inexpensive, yet solid options to impressive premium picks to assemble our list of the best carry-on luggage models for tourists and explorers of all kinds.
Our top picks
Best budget carry-on: COOLIFE Luggage Expandable Suitcase PC ABS
You don’t have to drain your savings to get a carry-on case that’ll go the distance, and Coolife’s polycarbonate + ABS suitcase is the best budget-friendly model on the market. Available in your choice of five sharp colors including a classy wine red and a bold pumpkin orange, this carry-on sports an expandable interior that adds an additional 15% of storage space: a handy feature rarely seen at this lower price point.
Some of the other key perks of this affordable model include a lightweight yet durable and scratch-resistant hard-shelled design, side-mounted Transportation Security Administration-approved lock, ergonomic telescoping aluminum handle with two convenient height settings, and silent gliding wheels.
- Material: ABS+PC material
- Size / Measurements: 22 inches x 9 inches x 15 inches
- Warranty: Worldwide 2-year warranty
- Colors: Orange, Grey, Wine Red, Silver, Navy
- Durable shell
- TSA lock
- Small size isn’t ideal if you like to pack a lot.
- ABS isn’t as strong as full polycarbonate.
Coolife Luggage Expandable Suitcase PC+ABS 3 Piece Set with TSA Lock Spinner 20in24in28in
Best hardside carry-on: Samsonite Novaire Carry-On Spinner
A quality piece of hardside carry-on luggage is essential for travelers who have to know that their items will survive the journey in one piece, and if you need that sense of security, Samsonite’s Novaire is certainly worth the investment. The shell of each Novaire carry-on is composed of 100% Makrolon, a thermoplastic made to withstand severe impacts, extreme temperatures, and endure for far longer than you may expect it to.
In addition to its extreme toughness, the Novaire features an integrated TSA-approved lock, a retractable handle that securely fastens in place, plenty of storage space with multiple organizational pockets and convenient tie-down straps, and a set of four rugged, 360-degree wheels.
- Material: Bayer Makrolon Polycarbonate
- Size / Measurements: 21.5 inches × 15 inches × 9 inches
- Warranty: Limited 10-year global warranty
- Colors: Sapphire Blue, Rose Gold, Silver, Black
- Incredibly durable.
- TSA lock.
- Silent 360-degree wheels.
- Not expandable
Samsonite Novaire Carry-On Spinner
Best soft-side carry-on: Briggs and Riley ZDX
Some travelers prefer the versatility, flexibility, and lightweight construction of a soft-side carry-on, and we found that no other soft-side luggage sports the range of handy features found in a roomy Briggs and Riley ZDX bag. We were particularly impressed with the brilliantly designed mobile battery pocket that lets busy fliers charge devices via its USB opening while they are on the go, as well as its built-in RFID shielding technology that actively protects electronics from passing data thieves.
This quality soft-side carry-on sports an extendible interior that provides an additional 2.5” of depth as needed, making it a top selection if you plan on bringing home a few souvenirs. Between its reinforced handles, durable zippers, and wear-resistant nylon exterior, the ZDX is easily one of the toughest soft-side carry-on bags out there.
- Material: Woven nylon
- Size / Measurements: 22 inches × 14 inches × 9 inches
- Warranty: Lifetime guarantee
- Colors: Hunter, Black
- RFID shielding.
- Large storage capacity.
- Extra-durable construction.
- Fairly pricey
Briggs & Riley ZDX 22-Inch Expandable Spinner Suitcase in Blue at Nordstrom
Most durable carry-on: Samsonite Proxis Carry-On Spinner
If you’ve always wanted luggage that is as solid as a heavy metal carry-on but with half the weight and far more stylish, a Samsonite Proxis Spinner is a dream come true. Samsonite designed these carry-on cases with their signature Roxkin material, which is surprisingly light at just under five pounds, automatically bounces back after severe impacts and rough handling, and is available in four sharp color choices.
The Proxis also features a sizable interior with multiple silky-soft pockets, dividers, and removable cross-straps to organize your gear, a TSA-friendly lock, and ultra-rugged aluminum wheels with silent rubberized tires and matching telescoping handle that was made to last for years to come.
- Material: Roxkin
- Size / Measurements: 23.6 inches × 16.3 inches × 9.3 inches
- Warranty: Limited 10-year global warranty
- Colors: Honey Gold, Petrol Blue, Silver, Black
- Incredibly rugged.
- Extremely lightweight.
- TSA lock.
- USB port.
Samsonite Proxis Carry-On Spinner
Best lightweight carry-on: Swissgear 7850 Checklite Liteweight Underseat Luggage
If you need a lightweight piece of carry-on luggage that is a breeze to wheel around, slide under your seat, or toss in the overhead compartment, the compact Swissgear Checklite was made for you. At a mere 5.3lbs, you may be concerned that the Checklite is a little too small, but this compact piece features an array of roomy padded pockets and handy compression straps to secure your items in place, and its tough external materials will shield valuables throughout your journey. Even if you manage to fill up this lightweight bag to capacity, its locking telescoping handle and smooth silent wheels makes strolling between terminals a breeze.
- Material: Dobby polyester
- Size / Measurements: 14 inches x 13 inches x 9 inches
- Warranty: 10-year extended warranty
- Colors: Gray, Silver
- Extremely lightweight.
- Telescoping handle.
- Set of four dual spinner wheels.
- Might be too small for extended trips.
SWISSGEAR Checklite Underseat Carry On Suitcase - Black
Best expandable carry-on: Delsey Paris Helium Aero
Delsey Paris is no stranger when it comes to merging versatility and style, and their expandable Helium Aero continues this trend. We found that the small Helium Aero’s main compartment is easily expanded to accommodate up to an impressive 55-liters of storage, and it features a pair of packing compartments, tie-down straps, and a lined divider to organize your travel essentials and souvenirs.
The Helium Aero’s versatile telescoping handle features two positions to make rolling on two or four of its durable double wheels a smooth walk between airport terminals. In addition, the Helium Aero is offered in multiple sizes and five glossy hues of rugged polycarbonate material, so there really is a model for everyone’s travel tastes.
- Material: Polycarbonate
- Size / Measurements: 22 inches x 15 inches x 10 inches
- Warranty: Limited 10-Year Warranty
- Colors: Red, Pink, Blue, Metallic Blue, Steel Grey
- Large storage capacity.
- TSA lock.
- Durable construction.
- Available in four sizes: XS, S, M, and L.
- Not the lightest carry-on option
Delsey Paris Aero 21" Exp. Carry-On Spinner
Best smart carry-on: Arlo Skye Zipper Carry-On Max with Front Pocket
This shockingly lightweight smart suitcase is a remote worker’s best friend. It has a built-in battery pack with both USB C and A ports to charge up your phone wherever you roam, providing you remember to keep the battery pack itself charged. It also has an elusive hardside luggage feature: a front pocket to keep your laptop within easy reach for TSA checkpoints.
The Arlo Skye Zipper Carry-on is formidable: it has rugged 360-degree spinner wheels and is made of impact-resistant polycarbonate (the stronger cousin if ABS). It also has tamper-proof zippers and a TSA-approved combination lock to keep all your stuff safe and secure on its journey. This suitcase isn’t expandable but it does have a zipper that’s engineered to stretch up to one inch for those last-minute necessities you need to cram inside.
Some cool extras: the luggage comes with a laundry bag (and a shoe bag!), but the the interior lining of this suitcase is treated with an antimicrobial coating, just in case you don’t use it!
- Material: Polycarbonate
- Size / Measurements: 23 inches x 15 inches x 10.3 inches
- Warranty: 5-year on manufacturer defects
- Colors: Sea Sage, Champagne, Navy, Lemon, Black
- Charges your phone
- Hardside with an exterior laptop pocket
- Antimicrobial coating
- Laundry bag and shoe bag
- Not expandable
Arlo Skye Zipper Carry-On Max with Front Pocket
Best carry-on duffel bag: Thule Chasm
With its convenient storage capacity of 40-liters, ultra-rugged nylon construction, and ability to be carried in your hand or worn as a backpack, the Thule Chasm is hands-down the best carry-on duffel bag you can buy. Although you can get a Thule Chasm in even larger sizes, we can attest that the flexible 40-liter variant is the most carry-on friendly option for frequent travelers.
Its collection of mesh pockets ensures that you get the most out of this roomy bag, and its weather-resistant nylon materials will effectively shield your essentials from the elements even if the Chasm was somehow left on the tarmac. Between its range of appealing color options, comfortable backpack straps, and featherweight materials, it’s easy to appreciate the adaptability of this resilient duffel bag.
- Material: Phthalate-free TPE laminate with a 840D nylon base
- Size / Measurements: 22 inches x 13 inches x 10 inches
- Warranty: Limited Lifetime
- Colors: Olivine, Autumnal, Black, Poseidon
- Available in multiple sizes.
- Spacious with multiple pockets.
- Weather-resistant material.
- A little difficult to zip closed when full.
Thule - Chasm Duffel 40L - Black
Best carry-on backpack: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack - Del Dia
Featuring a one-of-a-kind design, durable nylon construction, and up to 35 liters of storage space, Cotopaxi’s vibrant Allpa is the best carry-on backpack available. Each bold color combination is the result of recycling leftover materials and pieces for a truly unique handmade backpack. This limited-edition bag keeps waste out of landfills and your travel gear protected within its sturdy nylon material and myriad internal storage compartments, which include a padded laptop pocket, zippered mesh pockets, and bonus rain cover that will come in handy if you plan on taking this vibrant pack into the elements.
With its exclusive style, collection of convenient handles and straps for easy carrying, and admirable environmentally friendly concept, you’ll happily reach for your trusty Allpa Del Dia for day trips and long flights alike.
- Material: Recycled materials, nylon
- Size / Measurements: 22” x 12” x 10”
- Warranty: Lifetime warranty
- Colors: Rainbow of colors
- Rugged construction.
- Many compartments.
- Each model is unique.
- Cannot pick an exact color combination.
Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack - Del Día
Best luxury carry-on: Tumi 19 Degree Aluminum International
Tumi’s heavy-duty luxury carry-on is every bit as stylish as it is rugged, while sporting far more impressive features than the average piece of luggage. Its attractive flowing, fluid-like aluminum hard-shell exterior, pair of integrated TSA-approved locks, and complementary Tumi Tracer tracking device come together to ensure that your belongings survive the trip and that this impressive carry-on luggage is easily recovered if it is lost or stolen.
Other perks of this premium carry-on case include a three-stage telescoping handle, a well-organized and spacious 31-liter interior, and a complementary customizable embossed monogram to match your sense of style. Speaking of style, the Tumi 19 Degree Aluminum International is available in four chic color combinations, and its protective bumpers and sturdy metal shell work together to ensure that this carry-on remains the most eye-catching case on the plane wherever you fly.
- Material: Aluminum
- Size / Measurements: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
- Warranty: 5-year warranty
- Colors: Blush, Silver, Dark Denim, Matte Black
- Extremely rugged construction.
- Dual TSA combination locks.
- Push-button telescoping handle.
- Relatively heavy.
- High price point.
Men's 19 Degree Aluminum International Carry-On - Silver
How we chose the best carry-on luggage
We utilized many hours of careful research of both major and lesser-known luggage brands and their various carry-on models, extensive testing, and previous experience to select the best carry-on luggage of the year. Some of the most important points we considered include versatility, durability, price, style, and overall value.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What are the accepted dimensions for carry-on luggage?
While the accepted dimensions may vary slightly between airlines, the general maximum size allowed for carry-on luggage is 22 inches high x 14 inches wide x 9 inches deep. Airlines that accept these standard dimensions for carry-on luggage include Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and JetBlue, but check with your preferred airline when planning a flight to ensure that your bag will be approved as a carry-on item so you aren’t stuck with an additional fee for checked luggage.
Is there a weight limit for carry-on luggage?
Although many airlines do not have a weight limit for carry-on luggage, there are a few exceptions that enforce a strict weight restriction for carry-on bags. It is rare to find a domestic airline in the United States with a weight limit rule, but international airlines such as Air France, Nippon Airways, and Qatar Airways all enforce a strict weight limit for carry-on luggage. International travelers should take the time to research the rules regarding carry-on weight limits ahead of time to ensure their carry-on doesn’t become checked luggage.
Can makeup and liquids go in my carry-on?
Yes, but the TSA has strict rules regarding how makeup and liquids are transported in your carry-on luggage. Each traveler is technically allowed one transparent quart-sized bag to store containers holding 3.4 ounces or less of cosmetic and liquid items. These include liquid soaps, toothpaste, hairspray, shampoo, and lip gloss, however medications, liquid formula, and baby food are a few exceptions to the rules regarding how liquid products may be stored in your carry-on. Actual rules may vary by airport.
Is hard or soft luggage better for carry-on?
Both hard-shell and soft-sided carry-on luggage have their positives and negatives, so neither is inherently superior, but frequent travelers tend to gravitate towards one style over the other.
Hard-shell luggage made of ABS, polycarbonate, or aluminum provide superior protection, making them the best choice for transporting breakable items, and their slick, water-resistant surfaces are easy to wipe down as needed. On the other hand, hard-shell carry-on bags are inflexible, bulky, and heavier, making them just a little harder to comfortably fit in an overhead compartment when compared to their soft-sided counterparts.
Soft-sided carry-on luggage is lightweight, easy to shove into a tight spot, and they tend to be more affordable than hard-shell luggage. Although a soft-sided carry-on bag isn’t as sturdy as hard-shelled luggage, if you plan on placing it into the plane’s overhead compartment versus subjecting it to baggage handlers, your suitcase may not need the additional defense of a hard case.
The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.